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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Eleven
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness, religious topics, sexual situations. Should be read with the lights off.
Spoilers: This is AU. We don't need spoilers where we're going.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. The LiveJournal format that you'll probably be reading this in (if you're one of my friends) is rough draft and is subject to revision. Consider this a 'sneak peek'. If something sits the wrong way with you, let me know. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.


As soon as the announcement came, Ichigo was shuffled off to his chambers, Uryuu hot on his heels. He still looked like an unpresentable mess, and he would want to answer as few of his father's intrusive questions as possible.

Likewise, Tatsuki had flown into Orihime's room upon hearing the commotion. As soon as the door was shut behind the boys, she sprung into action, practically ripping Orihime's night shrift off and throwing her into something more presentable. Before she knew it, Tatsuki was lacing her into her corset, pulling the now-familiar strings into place.

"Tatsuki," Orihime whispered nervously, "While you were out of the room, something strange happened." Her voice trembled with excitement and fear. She wanted her friend's opinion about this, even though she wasn't entirely sure how appropriate it was of her to ask.

"What?" the black-haired girl asked, "Ichigo didn't do anything weird, did he?" Her tone of voice was grave, so Orihime didn't want to say the wrong thing and get Ichigo into any more trouble than he already was.

"H-He..." she started, feeling the blush creep up her neck, "Just before Mr. Ishida came in, he almost k-k-kissed me!" She heard Tatsuki repress a laugh behind her before continuing on.

"I'm serious!" she chided, "I felt funny! My heart beat very fast as though I had been running, and I felt a little light-headed! You don't... You don't think he can control my mind, do you?" Tatsuki lost the battle with her laughter, causing Orihime to pout.

"No, Orihime," the older girl said patiently, "He can make you swoon if he's going to feed on you, but that's a lot different. Your heart would slow down instead of speeding up. You were probably just excited."

The thought made Orihime nervous. Before, she might have entertained the fanciful notion that the Count might take a real liking to her and actually propose to her. But now she wasn't sure how to feel about that. She knew if they were married, she'd be expected to become a vampire like him; Tatsuki's story had shown her how little half-breed children were desired, so a human wife was probably out of the question. And for as much as she was attracted to him, Orihime didn't know that she'd ever be able to give up her humanity, and possibly her very soul, for him.

"O-Oh," she finally muttered, "So it's... normal?" That somehow wasn't any less embarrassing.

"Completely normal," Tatsuki reassured her, "Alright, that's done. Let's get you into your gown and do your hair."

Orihime nodded dumbly. Whatever was about to happen, she wanted to make a good impression on the Marquis.


"Ichigo, my boy!"

The 'boy' in question flinched as he came down the grand staircase of the front hall. It had been so peaceful here for the past several months without his father's annoying interference. With a sigh, Ichigo realized that peace and quiet was in the process of being shattered. He only hoped this old man didn't frighten Orihime any more than she already was. That was the last thing he needed.

Before his foot hit the bottom step, his father was upon him, tackling him with a bear hug. In true Kurosaki fashion, Ichigo dodged with a duck before countering with an elbow to the stomach.

"Just because I've been out in the mountains for six months doesn't mean I've gotten slow, old man!" Ichigo scoffed. He knew what his father was up to; the crafty old coot usually followed up his bear hug with a body slam of some kind. It was one of the many things that irritated Ichigo about his progenitor. The black-haired man, on the other hand, was giving him a grin from his spot kneeling on the floor.

"Well done, son," he said heartily, rising from his crouch, "Soon you'll take my place as head of the family." Ichigo snorted, but didn't reply to this. His father was a long way from retirement still, and he knew Ichigo didn't want that responsibility.

"You two are still just as civilized as ever when you're around one another," a dry voice came from the entrance. Ichigo looked up to see his father's valet, Ryuuken Ishida, trailing into the great hall, tapping his white cane against the floor. The two barely tolerated each other; Ryuuken thought Ichigo acted beneath his station and Ichigo thought he was wound tighter than a clock. And this said nothing of the animosity between Ryuuken and his own son. They made Ichigo and his father look like the best of friends.

"You're early," Ichigo pointed out bluntly, not even wanting to engage in conversation with either of them. This simply earned him a huge grin from his father.

"I wanted to see this human girl with which you've found yourself so besotted!" Isshin exclaimed, "And I simply couldn't wait! Where is she? She's not still sleeping, is she? It's rather late for that..." As his father began looking through the room, Ichigo's eyes followed him critically. He was looking in the most ridiculous places - behind couches and curtains, in the fireplace, inside a large urn. Ichigo resisted the urge to throw a chair at him.

"She certainly isn't in the fireplace," he gritted out, "Miss Inoue is in her chambers. She'll be down soon." Isshin's face lit with unrestrained joy, but Ichigo wasn't stupid enough to trust that entirely. His father was up to something, otherwise he wouldn't have arrived so early.

"And where did you say she was from again?" he pressed on, "I haven't heard the name Inoue before." Ichigo struggled to recall the elaborate lie he'd penned to his father. He had definitely claimed she was nobility, at a minimum.

"She's from south of here," Ichigo said dismissively, hoping he remembered the story correctly, "She's the daughter of one of our lesser noble families. I saw her while I was hunting and brought her here." Isshin looked dazzled, but Ryuuken continued to look as impassive as ever.

"Count?" A gentle voice drifted down from the top of the staircase, sending a shiver up Ichigo's spine.

All eyes in the room immediately turned to her. Ichigo drank in the sight appreciatively, feeling his self-control already starting to strain again. Still, he couldn't look away, nor did he want to. She was all milky white skin, her dress sinfully low-cut with a square neckline to show off her generous bosom. From there, her waist tapered into a graceful silhouette, flowing into a waterfall of pink silk, white lace, and golden chiffon. Her wide amber eyes filled her face, heavy lashes fanning out above them, and her cheeks were dusted with just the palest bit of rosiness. And to top it all off, Tatsuki had put her hair up into an elaborate coif of delicate, fanciful curls, studded with semi-precious combs and laced with ribbons. Orihime Inoue looked every bit the Countess Ichigo had told his father she would be.

Ichigo hurried up the stairs to her before his starstruck father could pounce. He wrapped one protective arm around her back and took her hand in his as he led her down the stairs. Even though he was trying his best to avoid his father's curious eyes, he knew the old man was watching them fervently.

"Do we have guests, my lord?" Orihime asked softly, causing Ichigo to secretly beam with satisfaction. She had learned well.

"We do," he said, keeping his eyes carefully trained on her, "My father, the Marquis Kurosaki, and his valet, the elder Mr. Ishida." This was part of the act, and one Ichigo found himself enjoying all too much. The longer the two of them maintained eye contact, the closer they would appear to be. All too soon, Orihime looked away to acknowledge the two older men, actually causing Ichigo to feel a small pang of jealousy.

Orihime smiled at the two men before her, stepping out of Ichigo's embrace to curtsy to them with a little nod of her head. Each returned the gesture with a small bow, Isshin practically vibrating with excitement as he did so. Ichigo had to give Uryuu credit here - she really was just the type his father would like.

"My name is Orihime Inoue," she said sweetly, "It's an honor to finally meet you, Marquise Kurosaki, Mr. Ishida." The formality only lasted another second before Isshin shattered it to pieces with his theatrics.

"And you as well, Miss Inoue!" he exclaimed through a veil of tears, "Ichigo has told me so much about you! I can't believe you've finally tamed my horrible son! What a feat indeed!" As he spoke, gushing over her bravery and beauty, Isshin grabbed both of her hands, tears streaming down both sides of his face, finally culminating in him snatching Orihime up into a big bear hug - a real one this time, and not a feint. The poor bewildered girl accepted it all for lack of knowing what else to do. Finally, Ichigo had simply had enough, and pried his father's arms off of her.

"You'll crush her, you old oaf!" he admonished, pulling the gasping girl to his side, "She's not as strong as you!" His father looked stunned for all of a second before another grin split his face.

"Oh!" he cried, "And he's so protective! Oh, Masaki! You'd be so proud of your little boy!"

"I would?"

Ichigo's eyes widened at the sound of her voice. Chad had just escorted the gently smiling woman, along with Ichigo's two younger sisters, Karin and Yuzu, into the grand hall. All three were in traveling gowns, the tallest of them glowing with warm light as she led her daughters in. She cut a striking figure as she made her way over, willowy and pale as moonlight, with her golden brown hair twisted all up in gently falling wisps.

Even as her smile seemed disarming and gentle, Ichigo could tell his mother was scrutinizing Orihime. And for her part, Orihime regarded the woman as though she were spellbound; the younger lady was clearly in awe of her elder. But after a moment or two, the tension seemed to lift as Masaki's smile grew wider and more open and she approached the girl to fold her into her embrace.

"Mother," Ichigo said, uncertainty creeping into his voice. Deceiving his father had been the plan, but now that he was being confronted with the reality of his mother's presence, he felt his resolve wavering. In all honesty, he hadn't expected her or his sisters to accompany his father; instead, the deranged old man had brought his entire family!

"Ichigo," Masaki said softly, smiling up at her son as she released Orihime, "She's wonderful. She'll be a lovely addition to the family." As she spoke, her daughters also sized the human girl up.

"You're going to be our big sister?" Yuzu, the blonde sister, asked.

"She's still human?" Karin, the black-haired one observed, ignoring the scandalized looks the adults wore.

"Karin!" Masaki hissed, pretty brows drawing together at her daughter's impropriety. Ichigo was about to step in when Orihime herself spoke up.

"No, no," she said nervously, the small tremble of fear plain in her voice, "I-It's alright. My lord has already informed me of what... what he is." Ichigo visibly relaxed, as did his parents and their valet. In fact, a small smile crossed Masaki's face.

"And you aren't afraid, dear?" she asked quietly. Ichigo was keenly aware of the slight flutter in Orihime's eyelids that betrayed her as she spoke.

"No," she lied, "I will do what my lord asks of me, when the time comes." Part of him wanted to believe that lie. He felt that sharp pinprick lance him again. He knew it wasn't true. Orihime didn't want this life. He knew she didn't. But his parents didn't know that; in fact, he thought he saw tears in his mother's eyes.

"Oh, darling," she addressed her husband, who was now sniffling into a fine, silk handkerchief, "Isn't she simply wonderful?" Karin took the opportunity to cast the human girl a devious smirk, while her parents were still distracted.

"So," she addressed her brother quietly, "How's she taste?" Ichigo blushed as brightly as his pale skin would allow while Orihime visibly fought the urge to hide her face behind her hands. Instead, she found a small lace fan Tatsuki had equipped her with and opened it to shield her blush.

"N-None of your business!" Ichigo squawked quietly, trying not to distract his parents from their own theatrics. Karin grinned triumphantly while Yuzu fought a pale blush of her own.

"So you have tried her!" Karin prodded, enjoying the easy rise she got out of her brother. Six months ago, Ichigo would've been furious at this line of questioning; with everything he'd gone through, it was hardly alright. But now, he just found himself getting as flustered as he would have otherwise. He just hoped it didn't upset Orihime, but by the looks of things, she was having the same reaction as him.

"You know I can't do that!" Ichigo hissed quietly. His bluff did little to eschew Karin's glittering eyes and the mirth painted on her face. She obviously wasn't buying it.

"Oh, Ichigo," Masaki finally turned back to her son, interrupting the vigorous sibling rivalry, "We were so excited when we heard the news! We wanted to come as soon as your father told us!" Ichigo tightened his grip on Orihime to make sure his sisters didn't try to draw her away while he was preoccupied with his mother.

"Quite so," Isshin happily affirmed, "We wanted to see the girl that had captured your heart for ourselves." Ichigo could feel Orihime's nervousness through the fabric at her back. Her heart was hammering as fast as a little bird's, and he feared she might work herself into a faint, especially with the blood she'd already lost that night.

"You'll have plenty of time to get to know her later tonight," Ichigo said sternly, trying to herd his unruly family, "For now, Uryuu and Miss Kurotsuchi will have prepared your old rooms for you." He heard the elder Ishida snort softly at the mention of the black-haired girl, but Ichigo said nothing. Instead, his father replied, eyes glittering with intrigue.

"Oh, but we're not ready to retire just yet," the older Kurosaki said, "There's another coach coming just behind us." Ichigo didn't trust his tone of voice in the slightest. The old man was up to something.

"With your bags?" Ichigo asked skeptically. The black-haired man simply laughed.

"Oh no, no!" he answered jovially, "Nothing like that!" Before Ichigo could question the old man further, the door of the great hall swung open and Chad rushed in with a flurry of snow behind him.

"My lord!" he gasped, "A coach from the Kuchiki clan has arrived! And they've brought a guest!" Ichigo's brows furrowed as he watched his father turn toward the door with a smile. Had he invited the Marquis and his sister? What was he up to?

Presently, three figures stepped into the great hall from the cold outside. The first, and smallest, was a girl almost as tall as Orihime with ivory skin, a slight figure, and midnight black hair cropped just above her shoulders. Her blood red traveling cloak concealed full violet skirts, all covered in a dusting of snow. She walked with all the presence of a queen or a high-ranking general, leading the two men behind her. This was the Marquise of Kuchiki, Ichigo's childhood friend, Rukia.

Just after her was her brother's red-headed valet, Renji. He had likely been driving her carriage, as he was wearing a rather low-class riding outfit, splattered with snow and road grime. The poor fellow looked like a wet, angry dog.

And the last person caused Ichigo's eyes to widen. It wasn't Rukia's brother, as he'd expected. No, this was far worse. He was nearly as tall as Renji and slim, his dull blonde hair just brushing its tips over his shoulders. His priest's robes marked his profession, as well as the inverted St. Peter's cross he wore. This man was a vampire, just like the rest of them, but for reasons that were beyond Ichigo's comprehension, he chose to work in the Catholic church. All he did know was that trouble and strife followed Kisuke Urahara, and the man's arrival in his house could hardly be considered a good thing.

"What's he doing here?" Ichigo hissed, quietly rounding on his father and ignoring his new guests.

"Oh, Kisuke?" Isshin asked innocently, "I invited him along. As you and Miss Inoue seemed so eager to be wed from your missive to me, I thought 'Why not help the two lovebirds along?' And so here he is! It was very kind of him to make it on such short notice, don't you think?"

Ichigo could feel his dander rise. His father had somehow cottoned on to what he was doing and was calling his bluff. Chances were that the old man didn't know exactly what Ichigo was playing at, but he'd figured something wasn't right with his story. So now, the old man wanted Ichigo to go through with a wedding just to satisfy his skepticism.

"The lady and I agreed we'd be wed as soon as the snow thaws in the spring," Ichigo growled, "She's partial to flowers." He was thinking on the fly, and he doubted it would sway his father, but it was worth a shot. Orihime was becoming more distressed by the second, and if Ichigo didn't excuse her soon, she might panic or do something to give them away.

"Oh, don't be silly, my boy!" Isshin boomed, clearly enjoying his son's discomfort, "I've gone to all the trouble of inviting them all as guests, so you might as well go through with it!" Ichigo was about to protest again when he felt the girl in his arms sway.

"My lord," she murmured, giving him a pleading look before her eyes fluttered shut. Her warm body slumped against Ichigo's chest as he caught her easily, panic welling within him. She'd fainted dead away.
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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